Heather Nicol’s Whimsical Skirt-Sculptures Bring Color, and Song, to Winter Garden Atrium
As four long years of construction draws to an end at New York’s Brookfield Place, originally known as the World Financial Center, a colorful new site-specific art installation by Heather Nicol, which is unveiled today, threatens to overshadow the luxury stores scheduled to open in the coming days and weeks.
The artwork, titled Soft Spin, is suspended above the palm tree grove in the building’s glass-roofed Winter Garden Atrium, with six gently spinning parachute-like skirt sculptures hanging from the rafters. The blue, pink, orange, green, red, and purple fabric forms are each accompanied by their own audio soundtrack, and collectively use more than 750 yards of fabric.
For the audio component, Nicol worked with six singers, one for each skirt. Inspired by New York’s great theatrical tradition, and the Winter Garden’s 25-year history as a performance venue, she speaks about the sculptures like characters in a play—the central pink skirt, hung dramatically above the grand marble staircase, is the performance’s star, “Sarah.”
As Sarah sings an assortment of Broadway show tunes and other songs, the other skirts occasionally chime in, creating a choral arrangement that goes on for hours, and adapts to the changing sound environment in the room. “At times, the singing is really performative and polished,” Nicol told artnet News. “Other times it’s more like singing in the shower.”
Initially, Nicol experimented with an actual parachute and a decommissioned hot air balloon, before determining she was better off fabricating something to her exact specifications. She teamed up with a local costume store in her native Toronto, personally hand-sewing the interiors while the professionals constructed the billowing bell-like forms.
Astonishingly, all six of the 22-to-28-foot-high skirts are so delicate that they can be folded up and stored in a single bag. “I can pick them up with one hand, which is crazy,” said Nicol.
Specially-designed motors makes each sculpture spin, sometimes almost imperceptibly, at other times more noticeably.
The massive project was commissioned by the Arts Brookfield program, which hosts arts and cultural experiences at Brookfield office properties across the United States and in Canada and Australia. Installing the project was no easy task, given Soft Spin‘s epic scale and complex mechanical and audio components.
Even preparing the skirts offered its own challenges—with all of the tubing that gives each piece its shape, Nicol felt she was in “the camping trip from some dream or nightmare.” Nevertheless, even with last-minute construction (still ongoing) to prepare it for today’s opening, the striking Soft Spin is now in place, ready to inaugurate the new Brookfield Place.
Heather Nicol’s Soft Spin is on view at the Winter Garden in Brookfield Place, March 26–April 24.
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